DETROIT – The long-simmering tensions between the Democratic presidential field’s progressive standard-bearers and moderate hopefuls burst out into the open during the second primary debate on Tuesday night, as candidates from both flanks challenged one another on issues central to the race.
From the outset, a confrontation between the competing factions appeared imminent. John DelaneyJohn DelaneyThe Hill’s Coronavirus Report: Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas says country needs to rethink what ‘policing’ means; US cases surpass 2 million with no end to pandemic in sight Minnesota AG Keith Ellison says racism is a bigger problem than police behavior; 21 states see uptick in cases amid efforts to reopen The Hill’s Coronavirus Report: Singapore Minister for Foreign Affairs Vivian Balakrishnan says there will be consequences from fraying US-China relations; WHO walks back claims on asymptomatic spread of virus MORE, a former Maryland congressman who is among the primary field’s lower-tier candidates, delivered a direct rebuke of the contest’s leading progressives, Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersThe Hill’s 12:30 Report: Milley apologizes for church photo-op Harris grapples with defund the police movement amid veep talk Biden courts younger voters — who have been a weakness MORE (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenWarren, Democrats urge Trump to back down from veto threat over changing Confederate-named bases OVERNIGHT DEFENSE: Joint Chiefs chairman says he regrets participating in Trump photo-op | GOP senators back Joint Chiefs chairman who voiced regret over Trump photo-op | Senate panel approves 0B defense policy bill Trump on collision course with Congress over bases with Confederate names MORE (D-Mass.), in his opening remarks, warning that the two would lead the Democratic Party down a poorly charted path.
“We can’t go down the road that Sen. Sanders and Sen. Warren want to take us, which is with bad policy like ‘Medicare for All,’” Delaney said.
That touched off a series of similar comments from the primary field’s centrist candidates. Former Colorado Gov. John HickenlooperJohn HickenlooperGun control group rolls out first round of Senate endorsements The Hill’s Campaign Report: Republicans go on attack over calls to ‘defund the police’ Hickenlooper ethics questions open him up to attack MORE insisted that he was a progressive, but was “a little more pragmatic” than those in the contest’s liberal lane.
Instead of clashing as some political observers had predicted, Warren and Sanders banded together in a sort-of unified front, defending many of the liberal positions that have defined their respective presidential campaigns, as well as the overarching notion that transformational proposals will be the most powerful tool in Democrats’ efforts to defeat President TrumpDonald John TrumpSenate advances public lands bill in late-night vote Warren, Democrats urge Trump to back down from veto threat over changing Confederate-named bases Esper orders ‘After Action Review’ of National Guard’s role in protests MORE.
“I don’t understand why anybody goes to all the trouble of running for president of the United States just to talk about what we really can’t do and shouldn’t fight for,” Warren quipped after Delaney referenced the “fairy tale” proposals put forth by progressives.
The debate was the clearest display to date of the choice Democrats face in selecting their next presidential nominee.
The party’s ascendant progressive wing has pointed to establishment-minded Democrats’ failure to woo voters with substantial and sweeping policy proposals as part of the reason for former Secretary of State Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonWhite House accuses Biden of pushing ‘conspiracy theories’ with Trump election claim Biden courts younger voters — who have been a weakness Trayvon Martin’s mother Sybrina Fulton qualifies to run for county commissioner in Florida MORE’s defeat in 2016. By contrast, they argue, disaffected voters cast their ballots for Trump because of his apparent willingness to blow up political norms.
More moderate Democrats, however, hold that voters are more eager to return to regular order in Washington and elect politicians willing to work across the aisle to bring about incremental change. That faction has so far been helmed in the presidential field by former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenHillicon Valley: Biden calls on Facebook to change political speech rules | Dems demand hearings after Georgia election chaos | Microsoft stops selling facial recognition tech to police Trump finalizing executive order calling on police to use ‘force with compassion’ The Hill’s Campaign Report: Biden campaign goes on offensive against Facebook MORE, the current front-runner in the race.
Montana Gov. Steve BullockSteve BullockKoch-backed group launches ad campaign to support four vulnerable GOP senators Overnight Energy: US Park Police say ‘tear gas’ statements were ‘mistake’ | Trump to reopen area off New England coast for fishing | Vulnerable Republicans embrace green issues Vulnerable Republicans embrace green issues in battle to save seats MORE, a centrist who was on the debate stage for the first time on Tuesday, was quick to mention that he was the only candidate in the race who had won a statewide election in a state that Trump won by 20 points in 2016.
It was that record, he argued, that would propel him to victory in 2020.
“I’m a pro-choice, pro-union populist Democrat that won three elections in a red state, not by compromising our values but by getting stuff done,” Bullock said.
Sen. Amy KlobucharAmy KlobucharHillicon Valley: Biden calls on Facebook to change political speech rules | Dems demand hearings after Georgia election chaos | Microsoft stops selling facial recognition tech to police Democrats demand Republican leaders examine election challenges after Georgia voting chaos Harris grapples with defund the police movement amid veep talk MORE (D-Minn.) said as much, casting herself as capable of appealing to voters in crucial Midwestern states with her embrace of bipartisanship.
And another moderate, Rep. Tim RyanTimothy (Tim) RyanMinnesota AG Keith Ellison says racism is a bigger problem than police behavior; 21 states see uptick in cases amid efforts to reopen Congress must fill the leadership void Pelosi pushes to unite party on coronavirus bill despite grumbling from left MORE (D-Ohio), ignited a heated exchange with Sanders on the issue of health care, arguing that the Vermont senator’s proposed single-payer system would rip high-quality insurance away from the very union workers that Sanders has courted aggressively in his presidential bid.
“This plan that’s being offered by Sen. Warren and Sen. Sanders will tell those union members who gave away wages in order to get good health care that they’re going to lose their health care because Washington’s going to come in and tell them they got a better plan,” Ryan said.
When Sanders said that Medicare for All would offer more comprehensive health care than private, employer-based insurance, Ryan insisted that the senator did not, in fact, know that to be the case.
“I do know it,” Sanders sniped in response. “I wrote the damn bill.”
While the divisions among Democrats were put on display on Tuesday, Warren and Sanders were remarkably united.
The two occupy similar lanes in the primary field, and most recent polls show the two vying neck and neck for second place behind Biden. That competition prompted speculation ahead of the debate that the progressive senators may be on a crash course towards a confrontation.
By the end of the night, however, that anticipated clash never materialized.
Some candidates warned that, in adopting far-left positions on everything from health care to immigration to gun control, progressives risked being branded socialists by Republicans, who have already seized on that label as part of their election strategy for 2020.
At one point, South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete ButtigiegPete ButtigiegScaled-back Pride Month poses challenges for fundraising, outreach Biden hopes to pick VP by Aug. 1 It’s as if a Trump operative infiltrated the Democratic primary process MORE pushed back against that critique. Democrats, he said, should “stop worrying what the Republicans will say.”
“Let’s just stand up for the right policy and go out there and defend it,” Buttigieg said.
Ten other Democratic presidential candidates are slated to take the stage on Wednesday night, including Biden and Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisRand Paul introduces bill to end no-knock warrants The Hill’s Campaign Report: Biden campaign goes on offensive against Facebook McEnany says Juneteenth is a very ‘meaningful’ day to Trump MORE (D-Calif.), who’s fierce exchange over school busing in the first debate last month has raised speculation of another confrontation
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